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Poor and uninsured residents in Hidalgo County would have access to a better system of medical care under legislation approved on Wednesday, May 1 by the Texas House of Representatives, says Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, featured left, who is a Joint Author of the measure. House Joint Resolution 147 by Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, would allow the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, with local voter support, to create a hospital district, which is public body whose main responsibility is to provide medical and hospital care for needy residents. Canales says a hospital district would also provide a stable source of local revenue to help pay for the successful creation of a planned University of Texas medical school in the Valley. “Every major metropolitan region in Texas with a medical school has a hospital district, and those medical schools have a huge and positive economic and educational impact,” Canales noted. “The UT System already has pledged $100 million over the next 10 years for the Valley medical school. A hospital district that would work with this state-of-the-art medical school would go a long ways towards healing the sick, which is our moral obligation. Plus, this partnership would provide advanced medical education, create high-paying jobs, and reduce poverty.” Identical legislation is being carried in the Senate by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured center, in this image with Canales and Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, president of the University of Texas-Pan American. In addition to Canales, the rest of the Hidalgo County House delegation – Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya – are Joint Authors of Guerra’s HJR 147. See lead story in this posting.

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Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, featured right greeting constituents at his District Office in this file photograph, has secured approval by the House of Representatives for his legislation that is designed to improve security for thousands of students, staff and faculty in Texas public schools. On Saturday, May 4, Muñoz’ House Bill 801, which would increase protection at rural school campuses against accidental gunfire from hunters and marksmen engaged in their sport on nearby properties,was tentatively passed, without opposition. It will be sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “On December 12, 2011, two students were trying out for the basketball team at Harwell Middle School (in Edinburg) when they were shot and seriously injured,” Muñoz recalled. “Stray bullets from an individual(s) engaging in target practice on a nearby ranch crossed into school property, striking the students. Teachers, parents and students should not have to worry about stray bullets coming from surrounding areas while they are at school.” Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, whose House District 40 includes much of the deep South Texas school district, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, are Joint Authors of Muñoz’ HB 801. “Texas is a growing state and as more schools are located in formerly rural areas, the problem of stray gunfire crossing school property is expected to increase,” said Canales. “This is a common-sense proposal that does not interfere with property owner or gun owner rights.”

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Edinburg posted a 7.3 percent unemployment rate in March 2013, the second-best showing among the Valley’s major cities for that month, with only McAllen, at 7.2 percent, claiming the top spot. Edinburg’s March 2013 unemployment rate also was better than the national rate of 7.6 percent, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, which noted that the state’s unemployment rate came in at 6.4 percent. Mayor Richard H. García, featured left, has been working with national and state leaders to continue bringing business and jobs to his hometown. The mayor in late March promoted Edinburg during a visit by a congressional delegation to Edinburg. From left: Mayor Richard H García; Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security; former Texas Comptroller John Sharp, who is the Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System; and Edinburg City Councilmember Elías Longoria, Jr. See story later in this posting.

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Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, featured in the foreground, on Thursday, April 18, passed Senate Bill 1084, which would amend the Government Code to revise the definition of a qualified employee, a veteran, and a qualified business as they relate to an Enterprise Zone relating to the Texas Economic Development Bank. The bill would provide provisions for the nomination and administration of certain enterprise projects by the certain governing bodies. The bill would also amend the Government Code and the Tax Code to remove the ability of an enterprise project to receive a tax credit and to revise certain requirements for an enterprise project to be eligible to receive a tax refund. “A provision of the bill that I am particularly proud of is incentivizing the hiring of veterans as part of a qualifying businesses workforce requirements. As our service-members are returning home, we should make sure as many doors of opportunity are open to them as possible,” Hinojosa said. “This provision will also give businesses extra flexibility with an extra labor pool to draw from for the program’s workforce requirements.” See story later in this posting.

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Seeking to speed up the development of a full-service Veterans Administration Hospital in deep South Texas, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, has filed legislation seeking state financial support for the long sought-after medical facility. Such an investment by the state would eventually create thousands of jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually in economic activity for the region and state. Martínez, who is the lead author of House Bill 665, wants the Legislature to allow the Governor, the Lt. Governor, and the Speaker of the House to use money from the Texas Enterprise Fund – which currently has more than $141 million in its bank account – to help pay for the construction of a full-service VA Hospital for the Rio Grande Valley. “Beyond the positive economic impact, there is a need in the Valley for a veterans hospital. It takes our veterans hours to get to the nearest veterans hospital in San Antonio,” he testified on Wednesday, April 17, on behalf of his legislation, House Bill 665. HB 665 was considered during a public hearing of the House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development. “Using the Texas Enterprise Fund for veterans hospitals is not a difficult decision – an investment by our state can spur economic growth, and Texas would benefit from significant economic returns,” he said. Featured in this image from the House Chamber are Martínez, left, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. “It is imperative that we provide our country’s veterans with more than adequate access to health care. Once they have served us, we must serve them,” Canales said. Canales and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, are joint authors of Martínez’ HB 665.

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In response to Texas House Bill 972, legislation that would allow licensed concealed handguns on campus, South Texas College’s Student Government Association (SGA) found it necessary to voice the opinions of the student body they represent. By conducting surveys at the Pecan, Mid-Valley and Starr County campuses, STC’s SGA was able to gauge where the students stand on legislation that could invariably affect campus life. The legislation, also known as the Campus Personal Protection Act – by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, also would provide Texas public universities and colleges a chance to opt out if they first consult with students, faculty and staff. Approximately 558 students were surveyed with decisive results. Sixty-five percent of STC students voted against allowing concealed handguns on campus for all students, faculty and staff. See story later in this posting.

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Migrant farmworkers are so important to America that without them, the United States would no longer serve as the “breadbasket of the world”, helping alleviate hunger and famine here at home and throughout the world. In recognition of the vital roles played by the estimated two million to three million seasonal and migrant farmworkers in the country – including more than 131,000 in the state – the Texas House of Representatives designated April 23, 2013 as Migrant Farmworker Day at the Capitol. “Many Texans have a link to migrant farmworkers, either because they once toiled in the fields themselves, or they, their family or their friends are or have been members of this noble profession,” said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who authored House Resolution 1431 to recognize the vast contributions of this important labor force. “Migrant farmworkers are the foundation of the miracle of American agriculture, which puts food on our tables.” See story later in this posting.

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The Stonewall Democrats of the Rio Grande Valley will be hosting their third annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Prom on Saturday May 18, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Art Village Event Center, located at 800 N. Main Street in McAllen. The goal of this event is to provide a safe and positive space in where people of any age can come together to fellowship and celebrate who they are. The theme of the event is “There’s no place like PROM!” For more information, or to RSVP and purchase tickets, log on to the event’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/497492020310674/ The Stonewall Democrats of the Rio Grande Valley is an organization of politically active individuals working for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community in the Rio Grande Valley and the State of Texas.

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McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz, featured third from right, on Tuesday, April 15, received a partnership award for his six years of dedication to the Mayor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. Cortéz, who did not seek reelection, received the honor during the 2013 Project HIRE Kick-Off Event, held at the Cooper Center for Communication Arts at the Pecan Campus of South Texas College. The gathering also celebrated the second year of a $1.25 Million DRS Project HIRE Grant awarded by the Texas Council for Development Disabilities. Project HIRE participants with developmental disabilities from area high schools were introduced along with their parents. Project HIRE, which began in January 2012, provides 50 area high school students with educational and career coaches who will monitor their progression through college and eventually help them land jobs. The program provides students with “wrap-around services” such as on-campus counselors who help with college success, intensive summer training programs focused on independent living, and life skills provided by University of Texas-Pan American educational coaches, and job placement services through UTPA’s Placement Office. Featured, from left: Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Provost, the University of Texas-Pan American; Bonnie González, Chief Executive Officer, Workforce Solutions; McAllen City Commissioner Jim Darling, who is the only candidate on the May 11 ballot for McAllen mayor; McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz; Pattie Rosenlund, Executive Director, Easter Seals RGV; and Dr. Shirley Reed, President, South Texas College.

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The Texas Senate on Tuesday, April 23, authorized $2.4 billion in tuition revenue bonds (TRBs) to finance $4.1 billion in construction costs for 60 projects at 58 colleges and universities. If approved by the Texas Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry, Senate Bill 16 would include $98 million for a Science Building II at the University of Texas-Pan American and $60 million for a new campus for the University of Texas-Brownsville. Passed unanimously with strong bipartisan support, SB 16 was authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.?“To keep up with enrollment growth, the Texas Legislature traditionally has passed a TRB bill every other legislative session,” Zaffirini said. “It has been seven years, however, since we last passed one, and our colleges and universities are bursting at the seams.” See story later in this posting.

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On Tuesday, April 16, the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court recognized County Auditor Ray Eufracio and his staff for achieving the “Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting” by the Government Finance Officers Association for the county’s comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR) for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2011. The CAFR was judged by an impartial panel to meet the high standards of the program including demonstrating a constructive “spirit of full disclosure” to clearly communicate its financial story and motivate potential users and user groups to read the CAFR. The Certificate of Achievement is the highest form of recognition in the area of governmental accounting and financial reporting, and its attainment represents a significant accomplishment by a government and its management. This is the ninth consecutive year the County Auditor’s Office has received this award. Featured, front row, from left: County Auditor staff Letty Chávez and Linda Fong; County Auditor Ray Eufracio, C.P.A.; and County Auditor staff Becky Luna. Back row, from left: Precinct 4 Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios; Precinct 3 Hidalgo County Commissioner Joe M. Flores; Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García; Precinct 2 Hidalgo County Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios; and Precinct 1 Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar, Jr.

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More protections for women and children in Texas who are exploited by human traffickers, along with stiffer punishments for those smugglers, were approved by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, April 16, said Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, a joint author of the legislation. House Bill 8, whose lead author is Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, is the state’s most recent effort to combat human trafficking, a global problem which is growing in Texas. “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery,” said Muñoz, featured here at the front podium in the House Chamber. “Many victims are brought through Texas through our border with Mexico, which stretches almost 1,300 miles in length. We have a responsibility to continue to fight this criminal enterprise, which especially exploits and endangers women and children.” See story later in this posting.

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Mayor Richard H. García, featured left, was among several political, business, and news media leaders who participated in a work session of Leadership Edinburg Class XXIV on Friday, April 17, at Edinburg City Hall. Twenty-five years ago, a group of Edinburg citizens involved in the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce decided leadership would improve if potential and emerging leaders had an opportunity to interact with one another and learn about the problems and issues facing the community. From this vision, Leadership Edinburg was born. To date, more than 400 people have met the Leadership Edinburg challenge. After completing the class, members have gone on to improve Edinburg by serving their communities on community boards and by participating in local politics. The mayor was part of the day-long gathering that focused city and school government and politics. Edinburg City Councilmember Elias Longoria, Jr., Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios, and Edinburg School Board President Juan “Sonny” Palacios joined the mayor for that presentation. Featured, from left: Mayor Richard H. García; Nicole Sosa (Kidz College Learning Center); Joe L. Sánchez (Legacy Chapels Life Events Center); Cindy Esparza Reyna (Elijah Pest Control); Debbie Pequeño (Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson); Katherine De La Peña and Jorge A. Gutiérrez (The University of Texas Pan American); Kelly Rivera Salazar (Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson); Lazaro J. Guerra (Doctors Hospital at Renaissance); and Araceli Valencia (Boys & Girls Club of Edinburg RGV).

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The Leadership Edinburg Class XXIV’s work sessions on Friday, April 17, at Edinburg City Hall included presentations on how the news media works, and insights on politics and government at the county and state levels. Providing their expertise in the media were Brian Godínez, owner of Godínez Communications of McAllen; Davis Rankin, President of FUTURO McAllen; Rick Díaz, anchor for KRGV-TV Channel 5 News; Irma Garza, Director of Public Information for the City of Edinburg; Martín Hernández, Director for KATS-TV with the Edinburg school district; Mark Montemayor, Photojournalist with the Office of Public Information with the Edinburg school district, and Jared Janes, Legislative Correspondent with the Monitor. Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, Precinct 4 Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios, and Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Kelly Rivera Salazar provided their perspectives on county and state politics. Featured, from left: Ronnie Larralde (Edinburg Chamber of Commerce); Adriana Hernández (Doctors Hospital at Renaissance); Rubén J. De Jesús (Melden and Hunt, Inc.); Shea Prevost (Doctors Hospital at Renaissance); Rolando Bocanegra, Jr. (G Tech Corporation-Texas Lottery); Edinburg School Board President Juan “Sonny” Palacios; Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios; and Edinburg City Councilmen Elías Longoria, Jr. Members of the Leadership Edinburg Class XXIV who were unavailable for the photo session of the event were Cristina Niño Villarreal (Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson), Roy Esparza (L&L Logistics), and Jason Chang (South Texas Health Systems/Edinburg Regional Medical Center).

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Hospital District legislation for Hidalgo County would help provide for the poor and medically-uninsured, while helping secure creation of UT medical school in the Valley, says Rep. Canales

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Poor and uninsured residents in Hidalgo County would have access to a better system of medical care under legislation approved on Wednesday, May 1 by the Texas House of Representatives, says Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, a Joint Author of the measure.

House Joint Resolution 147 by Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, would allow the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, with local voter support, to create a hospital district, which is public body whose main responsibility is to provide medical and hospital care for needy residents.

“Under this legislation, and other measures we are working on, we would be able to more effectively serve our region, which has a high rate of uninsured residents,” Canales said. “Also, we would increase and improve the delivery of affordable health care, while strengthening our area’s ability to draw federal funds to pay for emergency care for the poor and uninsured.”

In addition to Canales, the rest of the Hidalgo County House delegation – Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya – are Joint Authors of Guerra’s HJR 147.

Canales says a hospital district would also provide a stable source of local revenue to help pay for the successful creation of a planned University of Texas medical school in the Valley.

“Every major metropolitan region in Texas with a medical school has a hospital district, and those medical schools have a huge and positive economic and educational impact,” Canales noted. “The UT System already has pledged $100 million over the next 10 years for the Valley medical school. A hospital district that would work with this state-of-the-art medical school would go a long ways towards healing the sick, which is our moral obligation. Plus, this partnership would provide advanced medical education, create high-paying jobs, and reduce poverty.”

During the public hearing on Thursday, April 18 before the House Committee on County Affairs, which considered HJR 147, local and regional support was offered for the measure.

Donald Lee, representing the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, briefly addressed the House panel, while several other individuals – Jim Allison, representing the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, Paul Bollinger, representing Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Don McBeath, representing the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals, and Terry Simpson, representing San Patricio County – registered, but did not testify, in support of HJR 147.

There was no opposition to the bill during the House committee public hearing.

An identical bill, Senate Joint Resolution 54 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was approved by the Senate on Wednesday, May 1.

Donald Lee, representing the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, and Sofia Hernández, representing Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, registered in favor, but did not testify, on behalf of SJR 54 when it was considered on Wednesday, April 17, by the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, of which Hinojosa is the committee chairman.

There was no opposition to the bill during the Senate committee public hearing.

Canales noted that the creation of a hospital district for Hidalgo County would have to eventually be approved by local voters, emphasizing that any such governmental body “would always be accountable to the public.”

But first, because of a unique clause in state law that Canales says hurts Hidalgo County,
HJR 147 will be among a number of other, unrelated constitutional amendments that will face voters statewide in November.

According to the bill analysis of HJR 147:

Background

Tex. Const., Art. 9, sec. 7 authorizes the creation of a hospital district in Hidalgo County. The constitution authorizes a maximum tax rate of 10 cents per $100 valuation of taxable property for the hospital district.

Digest

HJR 147 would repeal Texas Const., Art. 9, sec. 7.

The proposal would be presented to the voters at an election on Tuesday, November 5, 2013. The ballot proposal would read: “The constitutional amendment repealing Section 7, Article IX, Texas Constitution, which relates to the creation of a hospital district in Hidalgo County.”

Supporters Say

HJR 147 would allow Hidalgo County to rid itself of a more than 50-year-old provision in the state’s constitution that limits its ability to create and operate a sustainable hospital district.

Hidalgo County is the largest county in Texas without a hospital district and the only one in the state required to have a maximum tax rate of 10 cents per $100 property valuation for a hospital district.

Although this low tax rate might have seemed sensible when it was passed by the 56th Legislature in 1959, it hampers the ability of Hidalgo County to form a sorely needed hospital district that would be solvent.

Other Texas counties have shown the ability to operate successful hospital districts with tax rates that range on average between 20 and 40 cents per $100 property valuation.

A community that can offer health care to uninsured residents before they reach the emergency room has an important responsibility to property taxpayers to keep health care costs low.

HJR 147 would afford Hidalgo County the same taxing rate range that other counties enjoy for their hospital districts. If HJR 147 were passed and approved by voters, the formation of a hospital district in Hidalgo County and the district’s tax rate still would require approval from the county’s voters during an election.

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Rural school campus protection bill prompted by shooting of students at Harwell Middle School in Edinburg approved by House of Representatives, says Rep. Muñoz

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Without opposition, a measure that would increase protection at hundreds of rural school campuses against accidental gunfire from hunters and marksmen engaged in their sport on nearby properties was approved on Monday, May 6, by the House of Representatives.

House Bill 801 by Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, would require the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife (TDPW) to include information in its mandatory hunter education program about a hunter’s personal responsibility for discharging a firearm, awareness of school property and other surroundings and the danger of discharging a firearm across a school property line. This information also would be made available in any written or Internet-based material produced by TDPW for the hunting public.

Texas requires mandatory hunter education for every hunter, including those from out of state, or those born on or after September 2, 1971. Annually more than 30,000 youth and adults become certified under the program operated by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife.

HB 801 would add provisions for school districts to request signage alerting hunters to the location of a nearby school. It also would require TDPW to educate hunters about the danger of discharging a firearm across the property line of a school.

At the request of a school district, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) would be required to place signs in appropriate places along state or federal highways to alert hunters to the proximity of a school. TxDOT also would be required to act jointly with cities and counties to place signs along roadways maintained by those entities. School districts would be required to pay for the signs.

HB 801 is one of several measures filed by Valley legislators in response to a tragic episode in December 2011 at Harwell Middle School in rural north Edinburg. Two teenage boys, who were outside playing basketball, were shot, reportedly from a marksman practicing a mile away.

One of the students is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the shooting, and the second youth lost a kidney and suffered other organ damage, according to the Monitor newspaper in McAllen.

“On December 12, 2011, two students were trying out for the basketball team at Harwell Middle School when they were shot and seriously injured,” Muñoz recalled. “Stray bullets from an individual(s) engaging in target practice on a nearby ranch crossed into school property, striking the students. Teachers, parents and students should not have to worry about stray bullets coming from surrounding areas while they are at school.”

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, whose House District 40 includes much of the deep South Texas school district, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, are Joint Authors of Muñoz’ HB 801.

“Texas is a growing state and as more schools are located in formerly rural areas, the problem of stray gunfire crossing school property is expected to increase,” said Canales. “This is a common-sense proposal that does not interfere with property owner or gun owner rights.”

House Bill 801 will be sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

If approved by the Senate and Gov. Rick Perry, HB 801 would go into effect on September 1.

Edinburg school leaders promoted legislation

Dr. René Gutiérrez, Superintendent of the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District, testified in support of HB 801 on March 28, when the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety first considered the bill.

Gutiérrez said the legislation “provides a response to an incident that forever affected the lives of two innocent Harwell Middle School students and traumatized the community.” The Edinburg superintendent noted that in South Texas, he knows of dozens of public schools located next or near to rural properties used for hunting or target practice.

“Our School Board and Administration do not want another Harwell Middle School incident to occur anywhere else in the state,” said Gutiérrez, “We’ve taken a terrible event that affected our Harwell community and have proposed that the Legislature pass a law to protect future generations of Texas students who are at risk of a similar situation.”

In addition to Gutiérrez, two other representatives of the Edinburg school district – Dr. Martín Castillo, the Vice-President of the Edinburg school district’s Board of Trustees, and ECISD staff member Carlos Guzmán – during the March 28 public hearing registered their support of HB 801 before the House committee.

550 Texas campuses to benefit

According to the bill analysis of HB 801, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimated that 550 schools are located in rural areas where hunting near schools would be possible and require signage, Muñoz said.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates there would be a minimal cost with placing signs near those schools needing proper signage, and testimony during the March 28 public hearing showed that school districts could reasonably absorb this expense within their existing resources, Muñoz said.

As originally introduced, HB 801 had included a proposed provision which would have increased criminal penalties for hunters who knowingly discharged their firearm in the direction of a school.

But Muñoz, as per an earlier agreement with the Edinburg superintendent, removed that aspect of the legislation in order to move it out of the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Gutiérrez said the legislation would not negatively affect the rights of hunters, marksmen, or owners of properties next to campuses that are located outside city limits.

“We are not proposing to take away people’s gun rights, but rather to create more awareness and responsibility when discharging a firearm near schools,” said Gutiérrez.

“Our Board and Administration sincerely thank our South Texas legislators for recognizing the importance of protecting our students and staff, and ensuring parents that their children will be safe from stray bullets,” added Gutiérrez.

Rights of property owners, gun owners preserved

During the March 28 public hearing, Canales emphasized that HB 801 does not infringe on property owners or gun owners.

“We have done everything that we can to ensure that this doesn’t regulate property owners rights, that it doesn’t stifle gun owners rights,” Canales testified. “I am a ranch owner. I am an avid hunter, and I am against limiting property owners’ rights, against limiting gun owners’ rights. This is about education.”

Also according to the legislative version approved by the House of Representatives:

Subchapter A, Chapter 62, Parks and Wildlife Code, would be amended (changed) to read as follows:

Sec. 62.0122. HUNTER AWARENESS OF NEARBY SCHOOL.

(a) In this section, “school” means a private or public elementary or secondary school.

(b) At the request of a school district, the Texas Department of Transportation shall:

(1) Place signs in appropriate places along state or federal highways to alert hunters to the proximity of a school; and

(2) Act jointly with municipalities and counties, as appropriate, to place signs along roadways maintained and operated by a municipality or county to alert hunters to the proximity of a school.

(c) A school district that requests a sign under Subsection (b) must pay the costs of the production and placement of the sign.

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Edinburg posts one of Valley’s best job markets as unemployment rate drops to 7.3 percent

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg posted a 7.3 percent unemployment rate in March 2013, the second-best showing among the Valley’s major cities for that month, with only McAllen, at 7.2 percent, claiming the top spot, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The March 2013 unemployment rate also was better than the national rate of 7.6 percent, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, which noted that the state’s unemployment rate came in at 6.4 percent.

The Texas Workforce Commission is the state agency charged with overseeing and providing workforce development services to employers and job seekers of Texas.

Edinburg’s latest showing represents consecutive monthly improvements over February (7.4 percent) and January (7.6 percent), and is better than the city’s 2012 annual unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.

All cities combined in Hidalgo County in March 2013 had a 10.6 percent unemployment rate.

The unemployment rates in March for the other major cities in the Valley featured Mission (8.3 percent), Harlingen (8.4 percent), Pharr (9 percent), Brownsville (10.2 percent), and Weslaco (11.2 percent).

The March 2013 unemployment rates for all Texas cities, metropolitan regions, and counties were released by the Texas Workforce Commission on Friday, April 19.

For March 2013, there were 32,105 residents employed in Edinburg, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the unemployment rate is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force. The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed. To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working and actively seeking work.

The Texas Workforce Commission maintains a detailed accounting of employment trends for Edinburg and all other cities in the state on its website, located at:

http://www.tracer2.com/cgi/ dataanalysis/AreaSelection. asp?tableName=Labforce

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Dr. Glenn Martínez as Vice-President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, Felipe García, and Jaime A. Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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State funding for Valley VA Hospital would have major economic benefits for Valley, Texas, says Rep. Martínez

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Seeking to secure state funding for a full-service Veterans Administration Hospital in deep South Texas, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, on Wednesday, April 17, said that state financial support for the long sought-after medical facility would eventually help create thousands of jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual economic activity for the region and state.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates nine in-patient veterans’ hospitals in Texas – in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, Dallas, Houston, Kerrville, San Antonio, Temple, and Waco – but none in the Rio Grande Valley.

Martínez, who is the lead author of House Bill 665, wants the Legislature to allow the Governor, the Lt. Governor, and the Speaker of the House to use money from the Texas Enterprise Fund – which currently has more than $141 million in its bank account – to help speed up the development of a VA Hospital for the Rio Grande Valley.

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, are joint authors of Martínez’ HB 665.

Although funding for the Texas Enterprise Fund has been provided in the past by the Texas Legislature, grants from the TEF is controlled by the governor, lt. governor, and speaker of the house.

“We want to use state money from the Texas Enterprise Fund, which was established for the purposes of creating jobs and aiding in the economic development of a community,” Martínez said. “Through TEF, state funds currently are used to help traditional businesses. By investing in establishing, maintenance, and operations of veterans hospitals, (House Bill 665) will fulfill the purpose of the Texas Enterprise Fund while at the same time increasing the standard of living for our veterans.”

The TEF is a cash grant used as a financial incentive tool for projects that offer significant projected job creation and capital investment and where a single Texas site is competing with another viable out-of-state option. Additionally, the TEF will only be considered to help close a deal that already has significant local support behind it from a prospective Texas community.

“If we cannot take care of and stand up for those who take care of and stand up to us, we have failed not only in our obligation as Americans, but also as a society of the whole,” Canales said. “It is imperative that we provide our country’s veterans with more than adequate access to health care. Once they have served us, we must serve them.”

Rep. Martínez testifies on behalf of Valley veterans

During his testimony on April 17 before the House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development, Martínez focused on the jobs-creation and economic development advantages of Texas helping create a full-service VA Hospital in the Valley.

Currently, the Valley – a major metropolitan region with more than 1.3 million residents – is served by an outpatient clinic in Harlingen. Another one, under construction in McAllen, is set to open later this year.

He contended that allowing the state to use TEF resources for a Valley VA Hospital – or for any other federal VA Hospital in Texas – is consistent with the goals of the Texas Enterprise Fund.

Martínez noted that hospitals encourage economic growth through the creation of jobs, including for physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers and so on. In addition, hospitals create non-medical jobs, such as cafeteria workers, maintenance staff, and administrators.

“For example, the economic impact of the Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine is projected at more than $227 million for the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex, with more than 3,300 direct, indirect and induced jobs paying more than $138 million in annual earnings,” Martínez illustrated.

According to its website, Baylor Regional Medical Center is a full-service, fully-accredited not-for-profit hospital serving residents in more than 20 cities throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth region. The 276-bed hospital offers advanced medical services for cardiovascular services, women’s services, diagnostic imaging, neonatal intensive care, sleep disorders, intensive and emergency care.

“Beyond the positive economic impact, there is a need in the Valley for a veterans hospital. It takes our veterans hours to get to the nearest veterans hospital in San Antonio,” he continued. “Using the Texas Enterprise Fund for veterans hospitals is not a difficult decision – an investment by our state can spur economic growth, and Texas would benefit from significant economic returns.”

Texas voters support state funding of VA Hospitals

Martínez reminded committee members that it was the Valley state legislative delegation in a previous legislation session that makes it possible for Texas to invest state money to help in the development of federal VA Hospitals.

Allowing the Texas Legislature to use state funds, such as using money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to pay for VA Hospital projects, was made possible in 2009 by then-Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Mission, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Flores and Hinojosa passed the legislation in the spring of 2009 that put Proposition 8 on the November 2009 statewide constitutional amendment ballot.

By an overwhelming majority – more than 75 percent – Texas voters on Tuesday, November 3, 2009, approved passage of Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that authorizes the state government to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in Texas.

The passage of Proposition 8 cleared any legal hurdles that could have been used to delay or block the use of state resources to help bring a VA Hospital to the Valley, Flores said at the time.

Martínez/Canales/Muñoz’ House Bill 665 was left pending before the House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development, which will help decide the fate of that measure.

Rep. John Davis, R-Houston, as chairman of the House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development, has the legislative authority to schedule a final vote by the committee on the veterans hospital measure.

Congressmen provide VA Health Care Update

The public hearing on HB 665 comes a little more than two months after South Texas congressmen in Washington, D.C. introduced federal legislation to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to also help create an inpatient VA Hospital in the Valley.

“We will continue to fight along with our veterans for a full service hospital in the Rio Grande Valley,” Congressman Rubén Hinojosa said on February 6, after he, Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and Congressman Filemón Vela, D-Brownsville, filed their bill, entitled “Meeting the Inpatient Health Care Needs of Far South Texas Veterans Act of 2013.”

“It is simply outrageous that our veterans have to travel for hours to a full service veteran’s hospital in San Antonio,” said Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. “It is a hardship not only for our veterans but for their families as well. We need a full-service veterans hospital in South Texas now.”

The Hinojosa/Cuellar/Vela bill outlines the necessity of a full service, inpatient hospital. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates more than 100,000 veterans reside in Far South Texas. Travel time for Valley veterans to receive acute inpatient hospital care can sometimes exceed six hours.

Those themes were reiterated on Saturday, April 20, when Hinojosa and Vela participated in the Veterans Enrollment Fair and VA Health Care Update that morning at the Tomás Garcés Texas National Guard Armory in Weslaco.

“We need to keep working together to enroll more of our veterans in the health care system in an effort to let the Veterans Administration know that a full service hospital in the Rio Grande Valley for our veterans is not just a request, it is a demand,” said Hinojosa. “Our brave veterans who sacrificed so much for our country and for our individual freedoms should not have to fight another battle right here to bring a full service veterans hospital to Deep South Texas. The time is now.”

“Throughout our nation’s history, members of the Armed Forces have proudly stepped forward and made enormous sacrifices to protect our country and way of life. Once our service members fulfill their commitment to our nation, we must honor our commitment to them,” Vela added. “It is incredibly important that all veterans use this opportunity to enroll in the system if they have not done so already, as this will aid in efforts to bring a full-service VA hospital to the Rio Grande Valley.”

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Sen. Cornyn files legislation to help create full-service, 50-bed VA Hospital in Harlingen

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Wednesday, April 24, introduced legislation to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to put a full-service inpatient health care facility in the South Texas VA Health Care Center in Harlingen.

“After all the sacrifices they have made, the thousands of veterans who call South Texas home deserve to see a local VA inpatient care facility become reality,” said Cornyn. “The dedication these men and women have shown, and continue to show, to our country reaffirms my commitment to ensuring that veterans in South Texas have access to the highest quality of care.”

This bill would expand the existing South Texas VA Health Care Center in Harlingen.

It would require the VA Secretary to include in the VA’s annual Strategic Capital Investment Planning process the resources necessary to expand the existing facility to provide inpatient capability for 50 beds, an urgent care center, and the capability to provide a full range of services to meet the needs of women veterans.

Additionally, it would designate the facility as the Treto Garza South Texas Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Center, in honor of veterans’ advocate Arturo “Treto” Garza, who fought to improve health care services for veterans in the Rio Grande Valley and who passed away on October 3, 2012.

According to the Rio Grande Guardian, an online publication that covers politics and business along the Texas-Mexico border, Garza had an extensive history in promoting issues important to military veterans.

In an April 27 article, the Rio Grande Guardian provided these highlights of Garza’s legacy:

Garza, a Harlingen resident who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War, died October 3, 2012, aged 68. After returning from Vietnam Garza worked on civil rights issues in the Valley. He helped get water services into Cameron Park, the largest colonia in the United States. He was a volunteer organizer for La Raza Unida and helped get better wages for migrant farm workers. His effort to improve healthcare services for the poor in Harlingen led to the establishment of Su Clínica Familiar.

In later years, Garza took up the struggle for a veterans’ hospital in the Valley, writing a weekly column for the Guardian and participating in walks and protests. He also helped countless veterans get the medical services they were entitled to by learning all about the claims process and writing letters to the VA. And he served as co-chair of the Veteran’s Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley.

Garza’s widow, Irene, thanked Cornyn for filing the legislation, and for proposing to name it in honor of her late husband.

“Today is a great day for all the veterans of the Rio Grande Valley, because Senator Cornyn has put out a bill to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to ensure that the South Texas VA Health Care Center in Harlingen includes a full inpatient health care facility,” she said. “It’s a great honor to see that the bill was named in my husband’s name. Thank you, Senator Cornyn, for always being there for the veterans, and for keeping my husband’s and many veterans’ dream alive.”

In his press release, Cornyn also included comments from the following South Texas elected leaders:

Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García:

“Our growing population of veterans in South Texas have given so much to our nation, and have continued to sacrifice their time, energy and health, having to travel more than six hours and hundreds of miles to receive acute medical care in San Antonio. I fully support the expansion of medical services to include a full-service inpatient health care facility in South Texas to provide our veterans with access to the proper and convenient health care they deserve.”

Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos:

“Senator Cornyn’s commitment to South Texas is apparent in many ways, including with his efforts to provide an inpatient health care facility for veterans in the region. Our veterans deserve the absolute best, no matter where they are located, and the senator’s dedication to both that principle and this legislation is commendable.”

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera:

“Our country is indebted to the courageous veterans of our armed services who have unselfishly given of themselves to protect our nation and safeguard our freedoms. Our South Texas heroes deserve proper health care that is accessible and geographically convenient. I fully support the expansion of the VA Health Care Center in Harlingen to include a full-service inpatient health care facility.”

McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz:

“I personally wish to thank Senator John Cornyn for offering much needed legislation to bring full-service inpatient healthcare to our deserving South Texas veterans.”

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell

“I strongly support the legislation to expand the VA Health Care and Surgical Center in Harlingen into a full VA hospital with inpatient and emergency care. We all applaud and are grateful to Senator Cornyn’s continued efforts to bring this important facility to all of our very deserving veterans in the Rio Grande Valley and greater South Texas.”

The Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley:

“The Veterans Alliance from the Rio Grande Valley would like to send you our endorsement for the Treto Garza VA Hospital Bill that is being proposed. The Veterans Alliance Executive Committee and its membership have closely reviewed the bill and has approved its language with a few recommendations. Thank you for allowing our input, and we all think it’s a great way to honor a dedicated veteran advocate such as Treto. We look forward in working together to pass this bill.”

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Enterprise Zone legislation by Sen. Hinojosa awaiting action by the House Committee on Economic and Business Development

By JOSH REYNA

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa on Thursday, April 18, passed Senate Bill 1084, which would amend the Government Code to revise the definition of a qualified employee, a veteran, and a qualified business as they relate to an Enterprise Zone relating to the Texas Economic Development Bank.

The bill would provide provisions for the nomination and administration of certain enterprise projects by the certain governing bodies. The bill would also amend the Government Code and the Tax Code to remove the ability of an enterprise project to receive a tax credit and to revise certain requirements for an enterprise project to be eligible to receive a tax refund.

Hinojosa filed SB 1084 as a legislative priority to create jobs in the state of Texas, specifically in economically distressed areas.

The South Texas senator said his legislation is about creating opportunity for Texans in blighted communities through the creation of new jobs and new investment. SB 1084 emphasizes stronger incentives for job creation, maintains incentives for job retention, and promotes small business participation in the program.

“A provision of the bill that I am particularly proud of is incentivizing the hiring of veterans as part of a qualifying businesses workforce requirements. As our service-members are returning home, we should make sure as many doors of opportunity are open to them as possible,” Hinojosa said. “This provision will also give businesses extra flexibility with an extra labor pool to draw from for the program’s workforce requirements.”

The enterprise zone program was initially created in the 1980s by Hinojosa when he was a state representative and Sen. Héctor Uribe, D-Brownsville, to provide businesses with incentives to locate in economically disadvantaged areas and create jobs. The enterprise zone program refunds sales taxes to qualifying businesses that meet employment and investment criteria set out in statute.

Jobs provide opportunities for individuals and families to better their situation and prospects, Hinojosa emphasized.

“Jobs provide young adults with hope of a better future, individuals and parents the pride and dignity of being able to support themselves and their family, and communities the promise of an economically attractive future,” he said.

The state of Texas leads the nation in job creation and consistently has a lower unemployment rate that national average.

Hinojosa contended that HB 1084 will induce growth and economic development making sure these distressed communities prosper with the state and are part of Texas’ flourishing economy.

“It has proven to be one of the most successful economic programs in the state of Texas with one of the best return on investment,” Hinojosa said.

SB 1084 has been referred to the Texas House of Representatives for consideration. It is before the House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development.

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Senate committee approves measure by Sen. Lucio to stop illegal gambling in Valley, state game rooms that use “eight-liner” machines

By DANIEL COLLINS

A bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, intended to limit illegal gambling in Texas, on Monday, April 29, passed out of Senate Committee on State Affairs.

SB 1503 would discourage illegal use of ”eight-liner” machines by requiring game room operators to register the machines with the state comptroller.

“Game rooms which illegally use eight-liner machines to pay out cash awards have become hotbeds for illegal activity and violence,” Lucio said. “Senate Bill 1503 will discourage illegal gambling by shining a bright light on these illicit game rooms The bill forces compliance with the state’s anti-gambling laws via public disclosure and registration. With passage of this bill, law enforcement will finally have the opportunity to inspect and shut down illegal game rooms.”

Across the state, game rooms use eight-liner machines, which are coin-operated electronic video gaming devices that resemble slot machines. These machines are legal under the Texas Penal Code unless the operator pays cash. Game rooms are only allowed to pay out noncash prizes such as stuffed animals or small electronics.

Across the state, game rooms have become centers for assorted criminal activity, not limited to illegal gambling. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, it is alleged that illicit game rooms attract drug cartels, which may use the businesses to launder money. In Cameron County, law enforcement officials have aggressively sought to close down illegal use of eight-liners.

Generally however, law enforcement agencies have a difficult time prosecuting illegal use of eight-liners because game rooms often operate in a clandestine manner and behind locked doors, making it difficult to prove the owners are paying cash. Additionally, determining who owns the machines has proven difficult for law enforcement.

Lucio’s SB 1503 is intended to make it easier for state and local law enforcement to inspect illicit game rooms by requiring game room operators prove they are not operating the machines illegally. The bill would create a mandatory license for game rooms with 10 or more eight-liner machines. The Texas Comptroller would apply an annual licensing fee of $500 and an application fee of $500.

Under the bill, any person who submits an application for a game room license consents to an inspection of the premises by the state comptroller or a law enforcement officer at any time. Further, game rooms must display their license at all times and keep a record of each machine located on the premises.

Senate Bill 1503 would also require disclosure of who is profiting from licensed eight-liners. Under the bill, applicants for a game room license must provide the state comptroller the following information:

• Their name and address;

• The name and address of the game room;

• The name and address of the person who rents or leases the premises and the amount of rent paid;

• The name and address of the owner of the machines if the machines are rented;
the number of machines;

• Financial interest statements that include the name and address of any person in addition to the owner who has a financial interest in the operation of the machines; and

• A statement certifying that the machines will only be used in a legal manner.

The state comptroller would be required to post on their Web site the game room license number, the holder’s name and address, the names of those persons included on the financial interest statement, and the number of eight-liner machines on site.

Finally, the bill applies civil penalties for violations. The first violation would cost an owner $500 per unregistered eight-liner machine. The penalty goes up to $1000 per unregistered eight-liner machine for each subsequent violation.

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Rep. Canales’ legislation honoring Texas migrant farmworkers approved by the Texas House of Representatives

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Migrant farmworkers are so important to America that without them, the United States would no longer serve as the “breadbasket of the world”, helping alleviate hunger and famine here at home and throughout the world.

In recognition of the vital roles played by the estimated two million to three million seasonal and migrant farmworkers in the country – including more than 131,000 in the state – the Texas House of Representatives designated April 23, 2013 as Migrant Farmworker Day at the Capitol.

“Migrant farmworkers are the engine that drives the agricultural sector of the U.S. economy, a $28 billion industry. Here at home, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, migrant farmworkers contribute $432.2 million in long-term agricultural production in Texas,” said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. “The seasonal and labor-intensive work that migrant farmworkers perform is integral to the success of the agricultural economy of our country and our state, and it is indeed fitting to honor the men and women engaged in this honorable profession.”

Canales, who represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, authored House Resolution 1431. His resolution draws attention to the continuing help needed by this important labor force, which works in the second-most dangerous occupation in the country.

“Many Texans have a link to migrant farmworkers, either because they once toiled in the fields themselves, or they, their family or their friends, are or have been members of this noble profession,” said Canales, who has 31,000 migrant farmworkers in his home base of Hidalgo County. “Migrant farmworkers are the foundation of the miracle of American agriculture, which puts food on our tables.”

The states with the highest farm worker populations are California, Texas, Washington, Florida, Oregon, and North Carolina;

House Resolution 1431 finally gives migrant farmworkers “their honored place in Texas history,” Canales added.

“For many Americans, César Chávez and Dolores Huerta symbolize the struggles and successes of migrant farmworkers, but they also reflect the tremendous courage, integrity, and leadership that are part of the character and soul of migrant farmworkers,” the South Texas legislator noted.

Chávez (1927-1993) and Huerta (1930-Present) are renowned U.S. labor leaders whose many achievements included co-founding the National Farm Workers Association, later to become the United Farm Workers.

Both Chávez and Huerta have been recognized with one of the nation’s highest honors for civilians – the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Chávez by President Clinton; Huerta by President Obama).

“Migrant farmworkers continue to shape our state and country in countless ways through the fruits of their labor, and through their own accomplishments and the achievements of their families,” Canales added. “Anywhere you go in this country and in Texas, migrant farmworkers have helped make and keep our nation the greatest country in the world.”

In developing House Resolution 1431, Canales shared the following key characteristics about migrant farmworkers, including:

Demographics

• Texas has more than 131,000 migrant farmworkers;

• In Hidalgo County alone, there are over 31,000 migrant farmworkers;

• There are two million to three million migrant farmworkers in the United States;

• Nearly 80 percent of migrant farmworkers are male, and most are younger than 31;

• Of migrant farmworkers in the United States, 75 percent were born in Mexico;

• The states with the highest migrant farmworker populations are California, Texas, Washington, Florida, Oregon, and North Carolina;

• According to a 2005 survey, 53 percent of migrant farmworkers are undocumented (without legal authorization), 25 percent are United States citizens, and 21 percent are legal permanent residents;

• As it is, undocumented workers make up roughly five percent of our labor force;

• As of 2008, there were 39 million foreign-born people living in the United States, about 13 percent of the U.S. population;

• Of these 39 million immigrants, about seven in 10 are naturalized citizens and lawfully residing non-citizens; and

• There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, who make up four percent of the U.S. population and 5.4 percent of the workforce.

Poverty

• More than 60 percent of migrant farmworkers are poor, and this is increasing. Seventy-five percent earn less than $10,000 annually;

• The purchasing power of migrant farmworkers has dropped more than 10 percent from 1989 to 1998;

• Immigrant farmworkers often leave their home countries to seek a better life for their families. Immigration to the United States has increased notably since the 1994 signing of NAFTA, a free-trade agreement that has driven more than two million Mexican farmers out of business;

• Migrant farmworkers are often paid by the bucket; in some states they earn as little as 40¢ for a bucket of tomatoes or sweet potatoes. At that rate, migrant farmworkers have to pick around two tons of produce (125 buckets) to earn $50;

• Few social benefits. Despite their poverty, most migrant farmworkers are not eligible for social services. Less than one percent of all migrant farmworkers use general assistance welfare, only two percent use Social Security, and fewer than 15 percent are Medicaid recipients; and

• Low education levels. The median highest grade of school completed by migrant farmworkers is sixth grade. Thirteen percent of migrant farmworkers have completed less than three years of schooling, and 13 percent have completed high school.

Economic Breakdown

• Migrant farmworkers serve as the backbone for a national multi-billion dollar agricultural industry;

• Without migrant labor, $5 billion to $9 billion in import-sensitive agricultural commodities would be lost;

• Without migrant labor 10 percent to 20 percent of fruit and vegetable production would shift overseas;

• Without migrant labor, Texas would face up to $455 million in agricultural production losses;

• Without migrant labor, Texas would face up to $90 million to 288 million in income losses;

• Migrant farm labor supports the $28 billion fruit and vegetable industry in the U.S.;

• The Texas Comptroller’s Office estimates the absence of the estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants in Texas in fiscal 2005 would have been a loss to our Gross State Product of $17.7 billion;

• The state comptroller’s office estimates that state revenues collected from undocumented immigrants exceed what the state spent on services, with the difference being $424.7 million; and

• The state comptroller’s office found that the costs of the underground construction industry are large. The city, state, and federal governments were denied an estimated $272 million in 2005 because of employers who did not pay payroll taxes for Social Security, Medicare, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and disability insurance; as well as another $70 million in lost personal income taxes, because there is no withholding when workers are paid “off the books”.

Dangers of Migrant Farm Work

• Farm work is the second most dangerous occupation in the U.S.;

• Migrant farmworkers suffer from the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries of any workers in the U.S.; and

• Infant mortality rates are considerably higher among migrant farmworkers than the rest of the U.S. population.

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Bill by Rep. Thompson, Rep. Muñoz to increase punishments against human smugglers, protect victims of sexual abuse, approved by House of Representatives

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

More protections for women and children in Texas who are exploited by human traffickers, along with stiffer punishments for those smugglers, were approved by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, April 16, said Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, a joint author of the legislation.

House Bill 8, whose lead author is Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, is the state’s most recent effort to combat human trafficking, a global problem which is growing in Texas.

“House Bill 8 would resolve conflicting protective order statutes, adds trafficking of persons and compelling prostitution to the list of offenses ineligible for parole, adds sex trafficking of a minor and compelling prostitution to the list of offenses ineligible for community supervision, includes trafficking of persons in the list of crimes eligible to receive reimbursement for relocation expenses under the Crime Victims Compensation Act, and enhances certain penalties for trafficking related offenses,” Thompson explained.

HB 8 goes to the Senate, where it will be carried by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery,” Muñoz said. “Many victims are brought through Texas through our border with Mexico, which stretches almost 1,300 miles in length. We have a responsibility to continue to fight this criminal enterprise, which especially exploits and endangers women and children.”

Supporters of HB 8 said the changes are necessary to continue the state’s efforts to combat the horrific crime of human trafficking, especially the sex trafficking of children.

Texas has been identified as a hub for international human trafficking, and in response, the state has enacted numerous laws to combat these crimes. These have included laws to punish traffickers, protect victims, and establish the state’s Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force. HB 8 would continue these efforts by focusing on crimes related to the sex trafficking and exploitation of children.

In December, details on the issue were published in the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force Report 2012.

Among the many highlights were the following findings:

• Evidence suggests traffickers are taking advantage of the state’s vast borders, intricate roadways, robust economy, booming tourism, and expansive agricultural industries. Although accurately reflecting the prevalence of this crime across the state is still elusive, Texas is able to capture limited data on human trafficking and human trafficking-related offenses using the Human Trafficking Reporting System (HTRS).

HTRS is a secure, online portal where Department of Justice (DOJ)-funded task forces and voluntary participants from other law enforcement agencies enter data on suspected human trafficking incidents, offenders, and victims.

Based solely on the limited information entered into HTRS by the 11 Texas-based reporting agencies, there have been 678 human trafficking-related incidences and 167 suspects arrested from January 1, 2007, to December 14, 2012. Of those arrested, 79 were ultimately convicted.

In addition, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), 13 inmates are currently serving sentences for a human trafficking-related offense, and 52 inmates are serving sentences for compelling prostitution.

The number of arrests and inmates does not necessarily illustrate the extent of human trafficking across Texas. The better measure is the number of victims that have been identified by reporting law enforcement agencies. Victim information is gathered by the two Texas-based Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Innocence Lost Task Forces – one each in Dallas and Houston – and from the HTRS data base.23 Based on this data, 768 human trafficking victims have been reported in Texas.

In 2009, the State of Texas took major steps to fight human trafficking by creating the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force. On February 12, Van de Putte and Thompson introduced HB 8 that combined all of the recommendations presented in the Task Force’s 2012 report, which is accessible on the Office of the Attorney Generals website at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

Muñoz signed on as a joint author of HB 8 on March 12.

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE

According to the bill analysis of the measure, House Bill 8, as approved by the House of Representatives:

The 81st Legislature created the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force in an effort to create a statewide partnership among law enforcement agencies, social service providers, nongovernmental organizations, legal representatives, and state agencies that fight against human trafficking. The task force worked to develop policies and procedures to assist in the prevention and prosecution of human trafficking crimes and to propose legislative recommendations that better protect both adult and child victims.

HB 8 seeks to aid the prevention and elimination of the crime of human trafficking by enacting recommendations made by the task force in its recent report to the legislature.

HB 8 would make several changes to Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, and Government Code statutes dealing with prostitution, the trafficking of persons, and other crimes, including:

• Increasing the penalties for certain offenses related to prostitution involving children;

• Eliminating the statute of limitations for compelling prostitution of children;

• Prohibiting jury-recommended probation and restricting parole consideration for certain offenses;

• Adding some prostitution-related offenses to the sex offender registry;

• Merging provisions dealing with protective orders for victims of human trafficking and certain other victims; and

• Allowing victims of trafficking to receive relocation expenses from the crime victims compensation fund and to participate in a state address confidentiality program.

ANALYSIS

HB 8 reenacts and amends Article 7A.01(a), Code of Criminal Procedure, as amended by Chapters 1 (S.B. 24) and 135 (S.B. 250), Acts of the 82nd Legislature, Regular Session, 2011, to include a victim of any trafficking of persons offense, rather than only certain trafficking of persons offenses, among the persons authorized to file an application for a protective order without regard to the relationship between the applicant and the alleged offender. The bill clarifies that a parent or guardian acting on behalf of a person younger than 18 years of age who is the victim of any trafficking of persons offense is also authorized to file such application.

HB 8 amends the Code of Criminal Procedure to authorize a court to enter a temporary ex parte order for the protection of a protective order applicant or any other member of the applicant’s family or household if the court finds from the information contained in the application that there is a clear and present danger of sexual abuse or trafficking.

HB 8 reenacts and amends Article 7A.03, Code of Criminal Procedure, as amended by Chapters 135 (S.B. 250) and 238 (H.B. 649), Acts of the 82nd Legislature, Regular Session, 2011, to expand the offenses for which a court is required to find whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that a protective order applicant is the victim to include sexual abuse and trafficking and to require the court to include such findings in the issued protective order.

HB 8 amends the Code of Criminal Procedure to clarify that a parent or guardian acting on behalf of a victim of any trafficking of persons offense or a compelling prostitution offense who is younger than 18 years of age is authorized to file at any time an application with the court to rescind a protective order.

HB 8 reenacts and amends Article 12.01, Code of Criminal Procedure, as amended 1 (S.B. 24), 122 (H.B. 3000), 222 (H.B. 253), and 620 (S.B. 688), Acts of the 82nd Legislature, Regular Session, 2011, to change the statute of limitation for compelling prostitution from 10 years from the victim’s 18th birthday to no limitation.

HB 8 amends the Code of Criminal Procedure to make a defendant convicted of compelling prostitution or trafficking of persons ineligible for jury recommended community supervision. The bill includes a victim of “trafficking of persons,” defined for purposes of crime victims’ rights as any offense that results in a person engaging in forced labor or services and that may be prosecuted under specified laws, among the persons eligible to receive a onetime-only assistance payment in a specified amount for certain relocation and housing expenses and among the persons for which the attorney general is required to establish an address confidentiality program. The bill includes a conviction of or an adjudication for or based on certain prostitution and compelling prostitution offenses in the definition of “reportable conviction or adjudication,” for purposes of the sex offender registration program.

HB 8 amends the Government Code to make an inmate serving a sentence for compelling prostitution or trafficking of persons ineligible for release on parole until the inmate’s actual calendar time served, without consideration of good conduct time, equals one-half of the sentence or 30 calendar years, whichever is less, but in no event less than two calendar years.

HB 8 amends the Penal Code to increase from younger than 14 years of age to younger than 18 years of age the age at which a person being solicited in a prostitution offense results in a penalty enhancement to a felony of the second degree and to specify that this enhancement occurs regardless of whether the actor knows the age of the person solicited at the time the actor commits the offense.

HB 8 enhances from a Class A misdemeanor to a felony of the second degree the penalty for promotion of prostitution if the actor solicits a person younger than 18 years of age to engage in prostitution with another or receives money or other property pursuant to an agreement to participate in the proceeds of prostitution services rendered by a person younger than 18 years of age.

HB 8 enhances from a felony of the third degree to a felony of the first degree the penalty for aggravated promotion of prostitution if the prostitution enterprise uses as a prostitute one or more persons younger than 18 years of age.

HB 8 increases to a felony of the second degree the penalty enhancements for all obscenity offenses resulting from the showing at trial that the obscene material that is the subject of the offense visually depicts certain obscene activities engaged in by a child younger than 18 years of age or in an image depicting a child.

HB 8 creates an offense if a person knowingly or intentionally accesses with intent to view, visual material that visually depicts a child younger than 18 years of age at the time the image of the child was made who is engaging in sexual conduct, including a child who engages in sexual conduct as a victim of an offense under Section 20A. (a) (5), (6), (7), or (8).

HB 8 creates an offense if a person knowingly or intentionally accessed the visual material in good fail solely as a result of an allegation of a violation of Section 43.621.

HB 8 reenacts and amends Section 71.02(a), Penal Code, as amended by Chapters 68 (S.B. 934) and 223 (H.B. 260), Acts of the 82nd Legislature, Regular Session, 2011, to expand the conduct that constitutes the offense of engaging in organized criminal activity to include the commission or conspiracy to commit continuous sexual abuse of a young child or children or solicitation of a minor, with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination or as a member of a criminal street gang.

HB 8 makes technical corrections and repeals Chapter 7B, Code of Criminal Procedure, relating to protective orders for victims of trafficking of persons.

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Senate approves tuition revenue bond legislation that includes $98 million for new science building at UT-Pan American

By WILL KRUEGER

The Texas Senate on Tuesday, April 23, authorized $2.4 billion in tuition revenue bonds (TRBs) to finance $4.1 billion in construction costs for 60 projects at 58 colleges and universities.

If approved by the Texas Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry, Senate Bill 16 would include $98 million for a Science Building II at the University of Texas-Pan American and $60 million for a new campus for the University of Texas-Brownsville.

Passed unanimously with strong bipartisan support, SB 16 was authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

“To keep up with enrollment growth, the Texas Legislature traditionally has passed a TRB bill every other legislative session,” Zaffirini said. “It has been seven years, however, since we last passed one, and our colleges and universities are bursting at the seams.”

In 2006, Zaffirini sponsored and passed House Bill 153 by Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, which authorized $1.86 billion in tuition revenue for 63 projects.

Generally, tuition revenue bonds are issued by individual universities and are backed by the expected future revenue raised from tuition. The State of Texas traditionally has offset the payment of the debt service on these bonds, enabling the universities to receive a much lower interest rate on the market because the bonds essentially are backed by the full faith and credit of the state.

”The economy is recovering, interest rates and construction costs are relatively low, and Texas university enrollments are spiraling upward,” Zaffirini said. “This is the perfect time to invest in these projects that would create jobs and have a dramatic economic multiplier effect on our state.”

According to a bill analysis of SB 16:

Tuition Revenue Bonds (TRB) have been the favored method of the legislature for funding construction in higher education. Classrooms, laboratories, libraries, academic centers, and other critical infrastructure are well suited to long-term financing. Institutions have proven adept at refinancing their issued TRBs along with more traditional sources of debt financing, thereby saving the state millions of dollars in debt service over the life of the bonds.

Since 1997, the Texas Legislature established an informal agreement that new bonding authority would be authorized for TRBs every other Regular Legislative Session. Based on this agreement, the next TRB bill was expected to pass in 2009; however, no new TRBs have been authorized since 2006.

During the 2013 Senate Finance Committee hearings on Senate Bill 1, chancellors and presidents testified about their critical construction needs and about the scarcity of alternative revenue sources.

They attested that nearly every proposed project would not be feasible without the issuance of a TRB. Funding these needs is timely, especially because interest rates are relatively low, as are construction costs, and rapid enrollment in higher education over the last decade has strained the state’s aging existing infrastructure. The state must invest now to ensure the education of a booming population to meet the needs of a modern economy and secure Texas’ economic vitality.

SB 16 includes TRBs for 60 projects at 58 institutions and system offices, totaling $4.1 billion in construction costs and $2.4 billion in TRB authorizations.

SB 16 amends current law relating to authorizing the issuance of revenue bonds to fund capital projects at public institutions of higher education.

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Senate passes three bills by Sen. Zaffirini to improve state contracting and procurement

By WILL KRUEGER

The Texas Senate in the final days of April passed three bills by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that improve the State of Texas’ contracting practices, including by enhancing contract oversight and uniformity.

“Texas state agencies and institutions of higher education manage thousands of contracts valued cumulatively at more than $100 billion,” said Zaffirini, Chair of the Senate Government Organization Committee. “Proper oversight and transparency in state contracting is critical, especially because so much taxpayer money is at stake.”

Zaffirini’s Senate Bill 1680 promotes greater uniformity in state contracts. The bill would standardize contract management practices for all state agencies, including by requiring that the agencies establish formal contracting guidelines, maintain all contracts in a central location and include uniform provisions in each contract. The bill also would prohibit a major contract from being negotiated by only one employee.

“Greater uniformity in state contracting would help ensure the best value for each dollar spent,” Zaffirini said.

Her SB1681 enhances contract oversight by requiring the Texas comptroller to develop training programs for contract managers, consult with state agencies in developing forms, contract terms and criteria, and establish a uniform evaluation process and include performance reviews in a vendor tracking system.

“Contracts must be monitored closely at every stage of the process, including solicitation, negotiation and management,” Zaffirini said. “Proper contract oversight helps mitigate risk, contain costs and ensure quality and efficiency.”

SB 1679 by Zaffirini would improve state agency procurement by requiring the comptroller to leverage state spending in the most efficient manner and to determine if certain services may be leveraged for multiple state agencies in one statewide contract at a cost savings.

A champion for government efficiency and transparency, Zaffirini has introduced legislation to improve state contracting practices each legislative session since 2005.

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South Texas College poll of students, faculty, finds opposition to measure that would allow persons with concealed handgun licenses to bring weapons onto higher education campuses

By MARTHA E. PEÑA

In response to Texas House Bill 972, legislation that would allow licensed concealed handguns on campus, South Texas College’s Student Government Association (SGA) found it necessary to voice the opinions of the student body they represent.

By conducting surveys at the Pecan, Mid-Valley and Starr County campuses, STC’s SGA was able to gauge where the students stand on legislation that could invariably affect campus life.

The purpose of the SGA is to promote the general welfare of the student body by serving as an advocate for student issues and presenting the student perspective to College administration, faculty and College committees.

Their role is pivotal as the bill – also known as the Campus Personal Protection Act – by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, also would provide Texas public universities and colleges a chance to opt out if they first consult with students, faculty and staff.

“I was a Border Patrol Explorer for four years at Post No. 735, so I have a different perspective than most students,” explains Rubén Cantú, Jr., a STC Starr County Campus SGA senator. “You never know the state of mind someone is in. However, I’m here to represent the entire student body, not my own personal beliefs.”

Cantú’s own beliefs did so happen to reflect those of the majority of STC’s student body.

Approximately 558 students were surveyed with decisive results. Sixty-five percent of STC students voted against allowing concealed handguns on campus for all students, faculty and staff.

Denisse Carreón, STC Mid-Valley Campus SGA President, elaborates on the opinions of students on campus.

“The general consensus is that students would feel unsafe, and many worry that it would affect their everyday life on campus,” Carreón said. “Of course, there are those that are for concealed handguns on campus, but they are in the minority.”

“At South Texas College students expect teachers to teach, students to learn and the police to do the policing,” said Armando Ponce, STC Coordinator of Student Activities. “The focus for everyone is providing quality education in a safe learning environment.”

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Pharr 19-year-old who bragged on Facebook of involvement with drug cartel and torture sentenced to almost 10 years in federal prison

By ANGELA DODGE

Erick Ochoa-Rodríguez, 19, of Pharr, has been ordered to prison for almost 10 years following his convictions for conspiring to possess and actually possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute the controlled substance to another, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced on Wednesday, April 24.

A federal jury in McAllen convicted Ochoa-Rodríguez on Thursday, February 7, 2013, after nearly three days of trial.

On April 24, U.S. District Judge Micaela Álvarez, who presided over the trial, handed Ochoa-Rodríguez a total of 115 months in federal prison, which will be followed by a four-year-term of supervised release.

At the April 24 hearing, the government presented additional evidence showing Ochoa-Rodríguez to be a cartel operative involved in drug and firearms trafficking, bulk cash smuggling and cartel violence. In many of the Facebook posts introduced at the sentencing hearing, he bragged about trafficking cocaine, selling firearms, recruiting drug dealers and even kidnapping other rival drug dealers before taking them to Mexico where they would be tortured and killed.

In handing down the sentence, Álvarez noted the evidence introduced at trial and during the hearing today indicated that Ochoa-Rodríguez was “in the [drug trafficking] business” and had “embraced this life as a drug trafficker.”

Álvarez went on to say that any other sentence would only serve to “encourage this lifestyle” and his continuing “disregard for the law.” Álvarez further mentioned that while the defendant’s age would usually serve to lessen his sentence, he has repeatedly relied upon his age to manipulate law enforcement and the courts.

Ochoa-Rodríguez was charged in an indictment returned on November 13, 2012.

During trial, the government presented photos, maps and witness testimony illustrating his attempt to receive 175 kilograms of marijuana from unknown individuals carrying the drugs from the border.

On October 29, 2012, Border Patrol agents encountered Ochoa-Rodríguez as he drove his vehicle to a planned rendezvous near a levee within two miles of the border with seven individuals who had carried marijuana bundles from the Rio Grande River.

He immediately fled, first in his vehicle and then on foot into a densely forested area. Agents ultimately located him as he was lying in the fetal position within dense overgrowth through the use of a canine unit, trackers and aircraft.

The government also proved this was not the defendant’s first encounter with law enforcement. Additional evidence demonstrated that Ochoa-Rodríguez received 125 kilograms of marijuana from undercover federal agents on June 11, 2012, before successfully fleeing law enforcement on that occasion. Further investigation revealed his growing ties with Mexican Drug Cartels and his involvement in cocaine and firearms trafficking, money laundering and other cartel-related crimes.

The government introduced photographs depicting Ochoa-Rodríguez with firearms and large sums of Untied States currency.

He will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

This case is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Border Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations. Assistant United States Attorney Grady J. Leupold is prosecuting the case.

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Mexican-origin Hispanics in the United States reaches record 33.7 million, Census reports

By RUSS OATES

A record 33.7 million Hispanics of Mexican origin resided in the United States in 2012, according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center. This estimate includes 11.4 million immigrants born in Mexico and 22.3 million born in the U.S. who self-identify as Hispanics of Mexican origin.

Mexicans are by far the largest Hispanic-origin population in the U.S., accounting for nearly two-thirds (64%) of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2012. Hispanics of Mexican origin are also a significant portion of the U.S. population, accounting for 11% overall.

The size of the Mexican-origin population in the U.S. has risen dramatically over the past four decades as a result of one of the largest mass migrations in modern history. In 1970, fewer than one million Mexican immigrants lived in the U.S. By 2007 it reached a peak of 12.5 million. Since then, it has declined as the arrival of new Mexican immigrants has slowed significantly. Today, 35% of Hispanics of Mexican origin were born in Mexico. And while the remaining two-thirds (65%) were born in the U.S., 52% of them have at least one immigrant parent.

Before the 1980s, growth in the nation’s Mexican-origin population came mostly from Hispanics of Mexican origin born in the U.S. However, from 1980 to 2000, more growth in the Mexican-origin population in the U.S. could be attributed to the arrival of Mexican immigrants. That pattern reversed from 2000 to 2010 as births surpassed immigration as the main driver of population growth.

The 11.4 million Mexican immigrants who live in the U.S. make up the single largest country of origin group by far among the nation’s 40 million immigrants. The next largest foreign-born population group, from greater China at 2 million, is less than one-fifth the size of the Mexican-born population in the U.S.

Mexican immigrants comprise by far the largest share of the unauthorized immigrant population in the U.S. More than half (55%) of the 11.1 million immigrants who are in the country illegally are from Mexico.

Internationally, the U.S. is far and away the top destination for immigrants from Mexico. Fully 96% of Mexicans who leave Mexico migrate to the U.S. Worldwide, nine percent of people born in Mexico live in the U.S. In addition, the U.S. has more immigrants from Mexico alone than any other country has immigrants.

The characteristics of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. have changed over the decades. Compared with 1990, Mexican immigrants in 2011 were less likely to be male, considerably older, better educated and have been in the U.S. for longer.

This report includes demographic, income and economic characteristics of the foreign-born and native-born Mexican-origin populations in the U.S. and compares them with the characteristics of all Hispanics. It covers immigration status, language, age, marital status, fertility, regional dispersion, educational attainment, income, poverty status, health insurance and homeownership.

The report, A Demographic Portrait of Mexican-Origin Hispanics in the United States, was written by Ana González-Barrera, research associate with the Pew Hispanic Center, and Mark Hugo López, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. It is available at the Pew Research Center’s website, http://www.pewresearch.org.

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan source of data and analysis. It does not take advocacy positions. Its Hispanic Center, founded in 2001, seeks to improve understanding of the U.S. Hispanic population and to chronicle Latinos’ growing impact on the nation.

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